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Topanga

January 17, 2008|Pauline OConnor

An 18.2-square-mile secluded oasis in the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu and the Pacific Palisades, Topanga Canyon has long been a magnet for nature lovers, bohemian artists and urban refugees craving a slower, simpler life. But free spirits are no match for a free market, and rustic cabins in these woods now go for more than $1 million. Nevertheless, for the time being at least, Topanga residents can still boast that there are more "turtle crossing" signs than traffic lights along the scenic curves of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, its main thoroughfare.

Morning

REAL MEN EAT QUICHE, ASK FOR DIRECTIONS

A good starting point for a visit is the Pine Tree Circle center (120 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.), at the intersection of Old Topanga Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Here you can fuel up for a hike on delectable French toast, fresh fruit compote, quiche and more at the newly opened Canyon Bistro ([310] 455-7800), or buy some outdoorsy gear at the Man Store ([310] 455-8618). You can also drop by the Topanga Historical Society ([310] 455-1969) and pick up a facsimile of a 1925 Topanga promotional booklet, "Southern California's Prettiest Drive."

TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

With 14,000 acres of wilderness, Topanga State Park, pictured, is the largest state park inside the boundaries of a major city (L.A.), although a state budget crisis threatens to close it as soon as July. The headquarters is Trippet Ranch (20825 Entrada Road, [310] 455-2465), where you'll find a nature center, picnic areas and trailheads to 45 miles of paths prized by hikers, bikers and horseback riders. One of the most popular is the 6-mile Eagle Rock/Eagle Springs Loop. You may not spot any eagles, but with all the hawks, deer, wildflowers, volcanic formations and ocean views, why quibble?

Afternoon

FEASTING THE STOMACH, EARS AND EYES

Post-hike, recharge your batteries at the Water Lily Cafe (120 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., [310] 455-0401). Frequented by folks such as the relaxed-looking patrons of nearby Yoga Desa ([310] 455-9551) as well as boho folkie Devendra Banhart, the canyon's unofficial commissary offers free Wi-Fi; organic soups, salads and sandwiches; and excellent eavesdropping and people-watching opportunities. After lunch, mosey a few doors down to the Topanga Canyon Gallery ([310] 455-7909) to check out local artisans' painting, sculpture, ceramic and photography exhibits, such as the "juried open" on display until Feb. 3. (Yolanda Klappert's "Lifesavers at Play" is pictured at top.)

MUCH MORE THAN X MARKS THE SPOT

Despite the name, you can't miss Hidden Treasures (154 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., [310] 455-2998), thanks to its shimmering signs, pirate trappings and a hula gal beckoning one and all. The interior of this antiques emporium, which sells vintage clothing, linens and furniture, is even more eye-popping -- witness the custom-made sea-theme toilet seat lids.

Evening

ALL THE WORLD'S A . . . WELL, YOU KNOW

With Topanga's renowned Theatricum Botanicum (founded by Will Geer after his blacklisting in Hollywood) dark until summer, theater lovers are cheering the arrival of a new venue. Eleven years in the making, the Globe Theater (1909 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., [310] 455-9400, www.shakespeare-usa.com) is modeled after the Bard's own stage and features indoor and outdoor performance areas. Productions include "Merry Wives of Windsor" (Friday to March 2) and "Othello" (March 11 to April 27).

FEEL AS IF YOU'VE STEPPED INTO A VORTEX

No place encapsulates the New Age groove better than the Inn of the Seventh Ray (128 Old Topanga Canyon Road, [310] 455-1311). Nestled along a brook, in what's rumored to have been evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson's retreat in the '30s, this mostly alfresco restaurant says its organic dishes are charged "with the vibration of the violet flame for your personal gain, and perhaps transportation to a higher plane." Should the pomegranate-lacquered Muscovy duck breast or New Zealand rack of lamb, pictured, fail to transport you, perhaps the crystals, chimes and dream-catchers at the adjacent Spiral Staircase shop will.

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-- Pauline.OConnor@latimes.com

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